Reader Spotlight

Blog name: Cracking the Cover
Blog URL:
Your name: Jessica Harrison

First, let’s start with how you initially started reviewing children’s, and more specifically, middle grade books:

During my senior year of college, I was an intern at a local newspaper. Working in the features department meant covering a number of topics — music, dance, theater, food, etc. — but it was reviewing books to which I gravitated. Following graduation, I was hired by the newspaper as a copy editor. Soon I began covering music and books on the side. When the book editor retired, I became the paper’s in-house book critic, responsible for coordinating all author interviews and book reviews for the Sunday arts section. I covered books for all ages and in all genres, but I gravitated toward books for young readers.

In 2010, the newspaper underwent massive layoffs, and my position covering books was eliminated. I though that was the end of things, but life had other plans. January 2011 began with an invitation from Penguin Young Readers Group to moderate their Breathless Reads panel featuring Ally Condie, Andrea Cremer, Kirsten Miller, Beth Revis and Brenna Yovanoff. The event went well, and by the end of it, my husband had come up with the idea of me starting a blog. Cracking the Cover was officially launched March 7, 2011.

Deciding what to cover was easy. Books for young readers had become my passion. Picture books are full of whimsy, and young adult novels pack a powerful punch. Middle grade hits at a magical time — imaginations are ripe for the picking, and the need for romance is often unnecessary, freeing up authors to follow other paths.

Having a somewhat unique background and approach to reading and reviewing books, have your reading habits changed since you started blogging about books?

I’ve always been a fast reader, but reading on deadline made me more efficient. In the beginning, I probably read more as a blogger than as a newspaper critic. I would read whenever and wherever I could, which was pretty much anytime and anywhere. That changed significantly once became pregnant and gave birth to my daughter. Now I do a lot of reading on my phone — thank you, NetGalley! — because I can surreptitiously read while my now-almost-2-year-old plays. Physical books are reserved for quiet time and after she goes to bed at night. (She’d much rather I read with her than by myself — a rough problem, I know.)

Do you have a particular approach to writing reviews for books? Has your style evolved over the years, particularly since becoming a blogger?

In many ways, my approach is still the same. I keep track of all books I receive — physical and digital — and set deadlines for those I know for sure I want to review. The others go into my TBR pile and work their way into the lineup as I flesh out my plans.

The physical reading is also the same. I jot down thoughts as I go but like to give myself some time between completion and writing a corresponding review so that I can gather my thoughts.

Evolution has come with writing, as it should, particularly when it comes to reviews. My interview and feature style has always been more conversational, which works well for blogging, but my review style as a newspaper critic was much drier. Adapting my reviews to that more casual style is an ongoing process — it’s hard to write in first person when you’ve been trained not to!

Do you have any advice for book bloggers who are just starting out?

Do you. What works for me may not be what works for you. Find your own format, your own style, your own layout. Success won’t come from copying what others do. You must find your own voice and run with it. And if you ever feel as if things are too hard or aren’t going the way you want, rethink your approach.

Which upcoming Middle Grade books on NetGalley are you the most excited about recommending? Are there any reviews you’re currently working on that you’re particularly excited to share on your blog?

I’m just finishing up a number of books — I usually am reading three or four at a time. I’ll be running reviews for a couple of NetGalley books in the next two weeks or so. The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary, and Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban, were released earlier this month. On their face, the two books are polar opposites, but as you delve into them, their main characters bring forward moving truths. I’m looking forward to The Adventures of Lettie Peppercorn by Sam Gayton, and Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance, which have February publication dates. I’ve started both and can’t wait to see where they go. Of course, I’ve also got some picture and young adult books in my review pile that will get sprinkled in there as well.

The Night Parade  Paper Wishes   The Adventures of Lettie Peppercorn   Behind the Canvas

Lightning Round!

Your ideal reading spot:

Curled up with a blanket next to a heat vent. (We’ve had a cold winter this year!)

Your blog in 2 sentences:

Cracking the Cover is dedicated to picture, middle-grade and young-adult books. It offers readers an inside look at new worlds, enticing characters, magical places, and the authors who bring them to life.

Your favorite childhood book:

Naming just one book is impossible. There are so many that made an impact, so I’ll share a few of my favorite middle grade. The first chapter book I remember was B is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood; The Hundred Dresses” by Eleanor Estes is timeless; and the “All of a Kind Family” series by Sydney Taylor was a perennial favorite.

And to finish off our interview, if you could go on a road trip with any author, dead or alive, who would it be, and where would you go?

I’d go with Katherine Paterson to Terabithia, of course!

Thanks so much Jessica, for spending some time with us and answering our questions!
Please make sure to check out Cracking the Cover and titles in Middle Grade now available on NetGalley! 

Would you like to nominate your blog, or a blog you admire, to be featured in our Blogger Spotlight series?Fill out this form!

*Interviewed by Tarah Theoret


One thought on “Blogger Spotlight – Middle Grade edition

  1. I have been reviewing children’s books at Kid Lit Reviews for nearly five years, and reviewed these genres on other’s websites prior for three years prior to KLR. I review books for kids up to age 13: board books, picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels. I also review story characters, participate in book blog tours, giveaways, and special posts (such as book or cover blasts and interviews with authors and illustrators). With most books with illustrations, you can see two or three interior spreads with the review.

    This month I am applying for membership in The National Book Critics Circle, after it was explained by a member that I do qualify for membership; membership in SCBWI will follow soon. (not that either of these mean anything to Net Galley reviews.

    When I started Net Galley, I did so after my writing mentor at The Institute of Children’s Literature suggested I read at least 100 books in the genre I wished to write. At that time the reviews were entered at Net Galley, Amazon, Library Thing, Random Buzzer, GoodReads, and Jacketflap. After three years I began Kid Lit Reviews. Since this time, I have reviewed over 800 children’s books since today, February 7, 2016.

    Thank you for you consideration. Kid Lit Reviews has only been mentioned in as a feature on one other blog,

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